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AVSC International: How Coercive Eugenics Thinks It Got Fixed

“It’s huge,” says Elizabeth Liagin, researcher and writer for the anti-population control Project Africa2000.1 Liagin is referring to AVSC International, billeted in New York, and recipient in 1998 of $26,618,305 from USAID, nearly $3 million from foundations such as population control syndicate steadies the Buffet, Rockefeller, Mellon, and David and Lucille Packard Foundations, and almost $2 million from non-US governmental grants, and contracts.2

Surely AVSC International is currently a main player today in global and domestic population control, but it also seems more like a fugitive fleeing from a troubled past. Today, it uses only the letters, AVSC, and not the words they represented for many years, namely, the Association for Voluntary Surgical Contraception. Nor do its materials have any reference to its original name, the Human Betterment Foundation, or to another former incarnation, Birthright.3 In an annotation on its present name, AVSC International says that it now only uses letters because its services have been widened to include all forms of contraception. True enough, but the organization does have an obsession with sterilization, especially with influencing an upswing in male sterilization through its “no-scalpel” technique.

The Human Betterment Foundation was founded in 1927 by philanthropist E.S. Gosney. Its first president was the eugenics-minded Californian, Paul Popenoe, who was also a member of the American Eugenics Society (AES), for many years funded in the main by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Max Eastman.4 During the Depression, the Human Betterment Foundation, and its extensions in state pro-coercive sterilization leagues, lobbied for and obtained forced sterilization laws in more than 20 states. These resulted in round-ups of alleged “morons” (many of them children), and welfare recipients who were deemed irresponsible breeders of the putative next generation of criminals, and leeches on the public purse.5 AVSC International still cultivates relationships, domestically and internationally, with national, local and state governments. All that is AVSC International, yesterday and today, is wound up with statist policies that target individuals based on assumptions about their worth.

Adolf Hitler and the German eugenicists used Popenoe’s data as the basis for the Reich’s own universal sterilization laws. Ironically, Hitler’s law was cast as voluntary, whereas the US ones were openly coercive. The roots of today’s cheery voluntarism are chillingly recalled in Hitler’s appeal to Germans to examine themselves for hereditary defects and report, voluntarily, for sterilization as a form of duty to the state and the future. Yet not all Germans agreed when the German Republic moved to voluntary euthanasia. In 1914, Dr. M. Beer wrote: “Once respect for the sanctity of human life has been diminished by introducing voluntary mercy killing for the mentally-healthy, incurably ill, who is going to ensure that matters stop there?”6

Transforming Eugenics

The 1960s were an important phase in the re-invention of eugenics as variously, population control, genetics, family planning and reproductive rights. During this time, Hugh Moore, a supporter of Paul Ehrlich’s population bomb theory, became director of the Human Betterment Foundation. He swiftly changed its name to the Association for Voluntary Surgical Contraception.7

Perhaps Hugh Moore renamed the Human Betterment Foundation as a way of saying that a new era was dawning in which sterilization would be given pride of place in the ambitions of the eugenicists recast as family planning missionaries. The 1963 letterhead for the Human Betterment Association for Voluntary Sterilization lists Alan Guttmacher under the “Medical Committee” and Margaret Sanger as part of the international division.8

Voluntarism must go down in history as one of the main — and most effective — — tricks pulled out of the eugenics establishment’s magic hat. It all started in the post-war period as an end run around the effects of the Nazi regime’s brutal excesses in the name of eugenics. Frederick Osborn, who in 1952 became John D. Rockefeller III’s choice for first president of the New York Population Council, announced the mask of voluntarism in his 1956 Galton Memorial Lecture, speedily dispatched for publication in Eugenics Review. Complaining that people generally reject seeing themselves as inferior, Osbom suggested

relying on other motivation to build a system of voluntary unconscious selection… Let’s stop telling anyone that they have a generally inferior genetic quality, for they will never agree. Let’s base our proposition on the desirability of having children born in homes where they will get affectionate and responsible care, and perhaps our proposals will be accepted.9

New voluntarism would mask raw eugenics expansionist ambitions. The public relations-driven flight from the cataclysmic realities of statist eugenics caused more than one eugenics organization to change their revealing names, much as AVSC international takes rather contorted pains to do today. Or, as eugenics researcher and journalist, Mary Meehan, deftly quips, “A lot of these [old-line eugenics] organizations have changed their names so often that, like the Cheshire Cat, only the big grin remains.”10

Yet, the trick of voluntarism doesn’t work with those who really understand and know about eugenics history, its patrons and its activities. Randy Engel, the founder and director of the United States Coalition for Life, expertly cuts through the tiresome rhetoric meant to confuse the relationship between voluntarism and coercion:

Population control by its very nature is ‘coercive’ — that is, when government institutes a program of population control, the people are given to understand that they are expected to entertain and adopt certain contraceptive behaviors to achieve government desires, usually in the form of quotas. One must remember that the most powerful forms of coercion are not the brutal physical Chinese programs but psychological coercion programs like those practiced by the US government on its own people, This form of psychological propaganda and subtle hidden persuasion is so effective that even when a government tries to reverse on anti-baby policy, as in Italy and other European nations with below population replacement rates, it rarely can undo the anti-baby emotions instilled by the mass media and various government population control machines.11

Selling Sterilization!

In the past, sheriffs in Virginia piled into cars and coursed up Brush Mountain to capture welfare recipients fleeing from the legalized sterilization knives, made so by the pressure provided by such as the Human Betterment Foundation and the state sterilization leagues.12 By virtue of poverty, they had been deemed unfit to have any, or more, children. Today, on its hefty private and public grants, AVSC International retails the same assumptions about the poor (and not so poor) classes through myriad projects. Witness its bizarre marketing campaign titled “You’d be surprised.”

In 1998, this AVSC International pilot vasectomy project was dropped on Pinellas County, Florida, in lower socio-economic areas of Tampa and St. Petersburg. AVSC International’s “You’d be surprised” vasectomy campaign employs degrading and recreational motifs to induce men to put aside their procreative faculty. AVSC placed “You’d be surprised” kits in Pinellas County bars, restaurants, gyms and malls, locations chosen because they attract low-income people. Its partner in this venture was the Pinellas County Department of Health, and the financial patron was the Lucille and David Packard Foundation.13

The DOH’s role in the campaign is to perform free or low-cost vasectomies at the DOH clinic, This is done for AVSC in exchange for training them in AVSC International’s “no scalpel” vasectomy technique, which, as we shall see here, it imported from Communist China, where at least 10 million men have been sterilized in this way.

The AVSC-DOH campaign kits contain coasters placed in bars and restaurants that read, in a torturous and absurd analogy, “Make my next one a vasectomy.” The kit also includes a poster of a male arm, its biceps emblazoned with a V for vasectomy tattoo with a floral border. Not to be missed, the kit also includes temporary vasectomy tattoos. On the coaster is the Pinelllas County Department of Health’s hotline number.

Pinellas County Department of Health educator and campaign coordinator, Jim Welch, explained, “[The kit] is a clever, lighthearted way of addressing a topic that many couples are not comfortable discussing.” The campaign, reports AVSC, culled 250 hotline calls to the DOH. AVSC also reported that “during the three-month campaign, 25 vasectomies were performed at the DOH — more than five times as many as any other county in Florida during the same period.” AVSC also notes that in the last quarter of 1997, the county had provided no vasectomies at all. Spurred by the upswing, the organization has plans to repeat the campaign in other parts of the country.

Another dot that can be connected in AVSC’s long history of eugenic sterilization was reported in PRI Review’s May/June 1997 article, “Let them all have vasectomy.” Recounted was Washington State Governor Gary Locke’s budget proposal for a $300,000 outlay for the States Vasectomy Project. Enter the ubiquitous AVSC International. It contributed cost-benefit data to help the governor’s team verify the legitimacy of the Projects design. AVSC International’s actuarial calculus opined that each vasectomy “saves the State $10,064 per man (2.0 children ‘averted’ multiplied by $5,034 per birth).” Considering that the Human Betterment Foundation sent similar data to Hitler on the cost — benefit ratio of the 1930s California sterilization program, providing such data is merely part of AVSC Internationals legacy.

In all of its incarnations, AVSC International has been influential at getting its way with governmental entities at all levels. Today, it promotes and arranges “whole-site training,” characterizing it as a new organizational concept.14 Whole-site training means coordinating all “reproductive health” services at local rather than highly centralized levels. The idea is to take the services to where those targeted report for free to low-cost health care, mainly government clinics. But is this concept really as new as AVSC International purveys? In fact, it precisely recalls how yesterday’s eugenicists would go into locales, identify the “unfit” through some pseudo-scientific scheme, and then lobby local legal bodies to codify measures mandating forced sterilization. It’s only that yesterday’s sheriffs have been replaced with clinic workers, and forced sterilization programs with “whole-site” training designs billed as part of a voluntary program. The eugenicists have always operated on a very short conceptual leash.

More AVSC whole-site training aimed at increasing vasectomies has occurred elsewhere, again with close government cooperation. With AVSC’s help, Mexico’s Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social “launched a long-range strategy to increase the numbers of vasectomies performed in Mexico.” This decision came after “family planning” institutes in Brazil and Colombia proved through their campaigns that Latin American men “will use high-quality vasectomy services that are accessible and geared to men’s needs.” The result? Despite vasectomies classically hovering around only 1.5%, the whole-site training project resulted in double that percentage.15

AVSC credits the advent of no-scalpel vasectomy as the fulcrum for increasing vasectomy acceptance both here and abroad. Noteworthy is one of the reasons AVSC gives for importing the no-scalpel technique from Communist China: “The US introduction might teach AVSC something about how to introduce the technique overseas, and demonstrate to developing world authorities and physicians that we were advocating nothing for them that we were not doing at home.”16 So, Americans must be hustled to undergo a sterilization technique developed by Chinese Communists so that foreign leaders cannot claim that their people are the objects of US imperialist designs to lessen their numbers through male sterilization. AVSC also spreads word of the no-scalpel technique to urologists practicing in better-heeled neighborhoods, as is demonstrated in the tastelessly titled article, “How to get fixed,” by journalist Jack Heart.17 Hearts looked to AVSC International for information on vasectomy techniques and decided on the no-scalpel method. One wonders if knowing its origin might have made him wince as much as thinking about the surgical knife used in a conventional vasectomy?

In 1985, through the good offices of the Chinese State Planning Commission, AVSC International sponsored a team of international sterilization experts to observe the regime’s no-scalpel technique, developed in 1974 by Dr. Li Shunquiang of the Chongqing Family Planning Scientific Research Institute in Sichuan Province.18 The technique uses forceps without points rather than a surgical knife. The urologists consulted by Jack Hearts told him that no-scalpel vasectomy is a gimmick. Whether image or reality, according to AVSC International, no-scalpel vasectomy has resulted in male sterilization outstripping female tubal ligation five to one.

In 1986, a lone New York physician, Dr. Marc Goldstein of New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Center, began using the no-scalpel technique. AVSC had to “leverage” that lone example “to make [no-scalpel] vasectomy widely available as the preferred method in the US, in order to make vasectomy a more acceptable choice for American men.”19 The organization paid for and provided the Chinese Communist-developed forceps to doctors willing to complete training. The overall result is AVSC’s referral bank of no-scalpel physicians. Of course, AVSC International has proselytized no-scalpel vasectomy anywhere in its worldwide catchment where it seems likely to be able to be incorporated into, or to replace, other measures for preventing births. Their Kenyan project resulted in eliciting interest in vasectomy especially from men 37 years of age and younger, most of them, according to AVSC married and with an average of 5.5 children.20 No doubt, in many minds the 5.5 children might be sufficient to rationalize the intrusion of AVSC International into Kenyan culture.

This short tour through AVSC’s apparatus demonstrates that individuals and entire cultures can truly be transformed by population control evangelization. What is not writ so large is one of the main reasons for the existence, a priori, of population control. When in the 1970s, USAID Population Division chief, Dr. Reimert Ravenholt, revealed that the agency meant to sterilize fully one-third of the women in the Third World (now surpassed, by the way), he explained that the reason was to protect US commercial interests abroad. G.K. Chesterton explained the very same why of eugenics in 1921. In so doing, he still offers one of the most incisive and educative comments on both eugenics and its patrons. Chesterton wrote how Mr. Rockefeller searched out London’s poor to work in his factories, noting that after all, eugenics is economics.

Suzanne M. Rini is an author; journalist and translator. Her published works include Beyond Abortion: A Chronicle of Fetal Experimentation, and articles on a wide range of subjects. She can be reached by email at [email protected]


1 Personal communication with author.

2 Improving Reproductive Health Services Worldwide, 1999 Annual Report, AVSC International.

3 Germaine Greer, Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Fertility (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1984); Lawrence Lader, Breeding Ourselves to Death (New York: Ballantine Books, 1971); Katherine O’Keefe, The American Eugenics Society, posted on

4 Allan Chase, The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism (Urbana, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1969).

5 Greer, 6

6 Dr. M, Beers, Ein Schoener Tod: Ein Wort zur Euthasiefrage [A Beautiful Death: A Word about the Question of Euthanasia] Barmen, 1914, quoted in Richard F. Colson “The Glueksberg and Quill Amicus Curiae Briefs: Verbatim Arguments Opposing Assisted Suicide, Part C,” Issues in Law and Medicine, 1 August 1997.

7 Lader, Greer.

8 Robert Cook, The Robert Cook Collection (Washington, DC: Library of Congress).

9 Frederick Osborn, “Galton Lecture,” in Eugenio Review, vol. 48:1.

10 Personal communication with author.

11 Personal communication with author.

12 Daniel J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics:Genetics and the uses of Human Heredity, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985).

13 Robert Becker, “Vasectomy, Toast of the Town,” AVSC News, Vol. 38, No. 1.

14 Janet Bradley, et al., “Whole-Site Training: A New Approach to the Organization of Training,” AVSC Working Paper No. 11, August 1998.

15 Terence W. Jexowski, et al., “A Successful National Program for Expanding Vasectomy Services: The Experience of the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social,” AVSC Working Paper No. 8, May 1995.

16 Libby Antaarsh and Shelby Marston-Ainley. “The introduction of No-Scalpel Vasectomy in the United States (1988-1992),” AVSC Working Paper No. 3, September 1993.

17 Jack Hearts. “How to get fixed,” Men’s Health, July 17, 1996.

18 Antaarsh and Marston-Ainley.

19 Ibid.

20 Pamela Lynam, et al., “Vasectomy in Kenya: The First Steps,” AVSC Working Paper No. 4, September 1993.

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